Birth of a skein

I have looked on and off for “true black” huacaya alpaca because I think it would be hilarious to wear something that is the same color as my hair. This fiber is a close match, but in strong sunlight, it shows red highlights on a dark brown base.

Yarn made from pure alpaca is shiny, drapey, and dense – great for wraps and stoles, not so good for sweaters. I knew right away that I wanted to make something suitable for lace knitting. To create the smoothest and sleekest yarn, I chose to comb the fibers. I used double-row Forsyth combs, as I typically do for small jobs. The fiber was combed 4 times, and I picked out knots and second cuts as I saw them.


I always think of Don King whenever I comb fiber. Do you?

I used a needle threader to pull the first tuft of wool through the diz.

I used a short draw (1.0-1.5 inch) to diz alpaca because the fibers don’t cling like wool and will drift apart if you let them. Here’s the trash after all the usable fiber was removed.

Even though the hole in the diz was ~2 mm wide, the fiber puffed up after it passed through the diz. This was how it looked right after it was drawn off the comb.

As such, this wasn’t a “stable” form of fiber and wouldn’t spin easily because the air:fiber ratio was too high. I compressed the top by winding it into a coil and inserting just a little bit of twist as I wrapped it around my fingers. Below is a nest ready to spin. Note that the tip of the top is on the outside – by spinning from this end, I maintained the directionality of the fiber as it came off the comb.

I repeated these steps a million times until I had prepared enough fiber (a little over 100 g) for a decent-size project. I decided to spin this in a worsted fashion to further enhance the shine, maintain density and drape, etc, and used what I think is called a “sliding, supported, point-of-contact, backward long draw.” If you don’t know what that means, you can read Jenny’s explanation here.

By the way, that’s one of my new Walunas fat-core bobbins in action.

Because I usually work with wool and silk, alpaca always makes me stop and think. It is a “hair” fiber, and it behaves quite differently from wool and silk during spinning. I spent some time trying to achieve the correct amount of twist that allowed the singles to hold together but not have the twist so tight that the yarn would be wiry and hard. It took me about 5 g of singles before I got to a happy place. :) I split the spun fiber to 2 storage bobbins and plied.

Nice, hm? Wanna see the closeup?

I bought this fiber via ebay, of all places, but the seller’s Web site is here. (Pleasant person, easy to deal with, and the fiber was exactly as advertised.) She didn’t know the micron count of the fleece; by my crude estimate, it is probably in the mid-to-upper 20s. Just in case my fingers were deceived, I wore the hank around my neck for about 60 minutes, before and after washing to set the twist, and I didn’t get the awful pricklies that would make it unwearable next to the skin. (Remember how I felt when wearing my Peruvian superfine alpaca scarf? Bleargh.)

The twist was set by washing in hot water and laundry detergent. I agitated the skein slightly, gave it a cold rinse to shock the yarn, and spun the water out in the laundry machine. The skein was air dried overnight with the help of a big fan.

Final specs on the yarn: 98 grams, 370 yards (348 m), 2-ply, fingering weight, 100% alpaca, natural black color. That’s enough yarn to finish projects like this, this (scarf version), or this.

Because today is my birthday, I thought it would be fun to give away something. Assuming that it’s OK with Claudia, I am donating this big skein in support of her fundraising efforts. (If you read other knitting blogs, you probably already know that Claudia is but several hundred sawbucks away from becoming perhaps the number 1 fundraiser in her group of peeps who are biking and raising money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.) For every $10 donated, you get a chance to win something from a slew of fabulous knit-related prizes (explained here). I hope you can help out.

37 thoughts on “Birth of a skein

  1. Happy Happy Birthday! It’s so funny to me that you were in search of yarn that matched your hair. The fiber did resemble hair, but perhaps not your own. Hope your birthday is a great one!

  2. Well, happy birthday! I hope you had a lovely day. The yarn is lovely and it’s very generous of you to donate such a fine prize to Claudia’s fundraising efforts. Now I can honestly say there’s something in the prize pool I have my eye on šŸ˜‰

  3. That is a stunning skein and so labor intensive. I took a carding class this weekend and they mentioned that one can get the best and most laborious treatment for fiber via combing.
    Oh and happy birthday. So nice of you to give presents on your special day. :)

  4. Happy Birthday! Coincidentally I have been combing and spinning alpaca this weekend — but gray, not black. Yours is lovely, and donating it is a generous thing to do.

  5. Happy Birthday! You are a spinning artiste! I loved all of your explanation on spinning this fiber, it is SO beautiful. I hope I win it :)

  6. Happy birthday! :-)

    I’ve been going through your archives, gleaning all the spinning tidbits. Thanks so much for taking the time to explain and illustrate everything so clearly and thoroughly–it makes an enormous difference to a novice spinner. :-)

  7. That handspun is gorgeous. How nice that you got to work with Theresa’s dad and that you are now helping Claudia and the MS cause. So much goodness in one skein!

  8. I haven’t spun it, but I love the way black alpaca looks. And your looks very lovely!!!! I vote for one of the scarves. Happy Birthday!! How many does that make?

  9. I have a source for black alpaca for you. The fiber looks good, the skeins of yarn I have seen look absolutely black. It is not cheap however, $5/oz.
    http://www.alpacaland.com/
    Switzer Land Farm
    Chris Switzer
    PO Box 3800
    Estes Park, CO 80517
    970-586-4624
    chrisalpaca@aol.com

    I have a handful of fiber I could send to you to check out.

    Teresa

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